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Are cigars any better?

[From the on-line page "Ask Dr. Weil," Copyright =A9 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997 HotWired, Inc. All rights reserved. Used without permission]

Quote: Cigar consumption is climbing rapidly in the United States, where people smoked 3 billion cigars last year, compared to 2.1 billion in 1993. Around the world, cigar makers are especially trying to target women by promoting their wares as a sign of affluence and sophistication. There are cigar magazines, cigar bars, and even instructional cigar dinners.
Donald Shopland, coordinator of the smoking and tobacco control program at the National Cancer Institute, calls the increase in cigar consumption "astounding" - particularly since it has been in decline for many decades. Alarmed, the institute plans to issue a report on safety, chemical composition, advertising, health policies, and other cigar issues in the fall.

I'm not impressed by the sophistication of rolled brown tobacco leaves lit up in anybody's mouth. If you smoke cigars, you're tripling your risk of lung cancer compared to not smoking at all. True, cigarette smokers have nine times the risk of developing lung cancer, so I suppose that's one good point. Cigar smoke is harsher than cigarette smoke, so most people can't inhale it deeply enough or often enough to establish the pattern of chemical dependence on nicotine that makes cigarette smoking so risky.

But if you inhale regularly, the risk is the same as with cigarettes. You are also increasing the possibility of head and neck cancers, cancer of the esophagus, and cancer in the oral cavity. If you compare cigars and cigarettes smoked in equal amounts, the risk of mouth and throat cancer are the same.

Cancer of the oral cavity is one of the nastiest cancers that can occur, in many cases causing disfigurement and death. Sigmund Freud smoked 20 cigars a day and died of tobacco-related oral cancer. Ulysses S. Grant, the 18th US president, also smoked about that much and died of throat cancer. He dropped 70 pounds and became addicted to cocaine in his efforts to escape the pain.

Also, cigar smoke is at least as hazardous to the people around you as cigarette smoke. In a recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, tobacco use - including cigar smoking - by spouses increased the risk of lung cancer by 30 percent in people who didn't smoke at all themselves. Exposure in the workplace and social settings bumped up the risk even more. Eating fruits and vegetables, or taking supplemental vitamins, didn't improve matters for the spouses.

A new California Environmental Protection Agency report released after years of peer review and government scrutiny (and some would say suppression), blames secondhand tobacco smoke for the deaths of at least 4,700 nonsmoking Californians a year. The report says California smokers cause between 4,200 and 7,440 deaths from heart attacks and stroke each year among the people around them, and 360 deaths from lung cancer. Their secondhand smoke is responsible for up to 3,000 new cases of childhood asthma annually. Cigar smoke billows out in greater volume and contains high quantities of unhealthy substances, so it's not an improvement.

There are plenty of healthier ways to satisfy an oral fixation. Try carrots.

Disclaimer: All material provided in the Ask Dr.Weil program is provided for educational purposes only. Consult your own physician regarding the applicability of any opinions or recommendations with respect to your symptoms or medical condition.